The question of Power in educational Partnerships

Everyone thinks linking schools in “North” and “South” is a great think to do: It opens minds, supports intercultural learning, and with a little fundraising, we can even help those poor guys far away to set up the so desperately needed library/lavatory/computer room… But what if such educational partnerships actually contribute to perpetuate stereotypes and neo-colonial relations? Research shows that schools links can have – and often have – no or even negative learning outcome. In order to set up school links which contribute to create a more just and sustainable world (the thing education is about, after all, isn’t it?), the question of power seems to be the crucial one.

In another essay for my MA Development Education, I try to examine the question of power in school partnerships. This includes a critique of a certain vocabulary we are so used to use, i.a. “North-South” and “empowerment”. I also try to set up a typology of partnerships based on charity, participation or emancipation.

The essay concludes:

Addressing power in school links is not an easy task: The complex and irritating questions challenge the comfort zone of well-meaning philanthropy, which often is the starting point of a linking initiative. The challenge is to channel the energy of an approach driven by exotism and charity carefully into a meaningful, equal dialog between the partners, not without omitting the ultimate aim of any critical global citizenship education: To question viewpoints in order to come to a more informed, responsible, ethical and political transformative action. This emancipation of students and teachers through joint and dialogical learning is highly subversive, and thus difficult to embed and justify in an institutional programme and a learning context, which mainly aims to enhance skills and competences of learners to survive in an even competitive economic environment. However, without challenging this very environment we are living in, global learning is meaningless. The question of power is the central question, not only for school links and other educational partnerships, but for any relevant political reflection and action.

You can download the full text here: From Charity to Emancipation – The question of power in international educational partnerships

Feedback and comments are welcome, as always!

Seeding without gardening in Norway

Norway“North-South Educational Partnerships” is the third and last module of my Development Education Master at the Institute of Education in London. I am very sceptical towards “North” and “South” as categories, which reinforce a two-world dichotomy and omit complexity and differences within “North” and “South”, instead of striving for a one-world vision (Helen Young wrote a very good essay on this for the development education review Policy & Practice: “Naming the World: Coming to terms with Complexity“). Nevertheless – or for this very reason – the module led to interesting discussions about power, culture and learning in international educational partnerships. As one assignment, I tried to analyse a Norwegian school linking programme through a reflection on how they treat questions of power and discourse, similarities and differences and joint learning. The conclusion is that the programme contains interesting elements such as a ban of aid and charity, but does not sufficiently systematise follow-up and learning:

Power and domination cannot be deconstructed by simply banning charity. A systematic and proactive approach to these questions would require facilitation and training for the participants in Norway and partner countries, but this is not part of the programme. [..] By limiting the approach to funding mutual visits of a very small and limited number of school members, without embedding these in a boarder and long-term school partnership development, the programme seeds possibilities for something bigger and possibly more meaningful than a two weeks trip South or North, but what emerges from these seed remains random and largely unknown to the institutional agency.

You can download the full essay here: Seeding without gardening – A critical reflection on a Norwegian School exchange programme